MY TEXTILE ART JOURNEY
Every journey has a beginning but when mine started I had no idea where it was going to lead – and I still don’t!
Great Aunt Marjorie taught me to knit when I was 5, succeeding with me as a left-hander where others had failed. I then knitted clothes for dolls! I started dress making when I was 11 in the 1960s. But the real beginning, the moment I identify as the start, came when I was 12. I was diagnosed with whooping cough and was off school for nearly a term. When my mother went shopping in our market town, I went with her as far as my magic shop – the place where I stayed with the owner’s permission until my mother had finished her shopping. Magic shops such as this are impossible to find these days. The owner sold wool and everything connected with the world of knitting – and likewise for embroidery – and tapestry – and dress making.
The owner – in my eyes then she was ancient, but probably she was in her 40s – during the time I was recovering from whooping cough - made for me a template out of cardboard and hexagonal in shape. She showed me how to cut out paper shapes using this template and then pin the paper to a piece of fabric, allowing 5/8th of an inch to spare – and then how to fold over and sew together to make a cover of hexagonal shapes. These hexagonal shapes were then sewn together to produce a large piece which was then backed with an old sheet. There was no quilting at this stage.
“You’ll never finish it!”, my mother exclaimed. But I did – and it remained the cover on the bed in the guest room at home until my parents sold the house in 2000. I never found out what happened to it.
THE WINDSOR YEARS
Rob and I married in 1976 and lived in Windsor for four years until 1980. I started another hexagon piece – at this point the hexagon unfinished piece pictured above. It was then that I taught myself more about patchwork. Two books were key, both written by an American couple, the Gutcheons:
The Quilt Design Workbook (1976) which I no longer have and The Perfect Patchwork Primer.
I was discovering the traditional quilt designs – and a desire to learn how to piece them together.
OXFORD – 1980 – 86 - DISCOVERING THE AMISH
Living in Oxford gave me access to a Laura Ashely shop that sold fabric scraps cheaply and I began a collection of these – piecing them together into various covers. This was a time of learning the skills needed for piecing a quilt top. From memory these were then used as coverings over furniture when decorating! Then in 1985, the year before we left the city, I found in our local bookshop – the Summertown bookshop – two books about the Amish that I bought and have inspired me ever since, both technically and spiritually:
The Amish and Amish Quilts (1985) and Who are the Amish? (1985) by Merle Good.
Another key book I soon acquired was A Gallery of Amish Quilts (1976) by Robert Bishop and Elizabeth Safanda. Discovering the Amish and their story and their quilts was really the first of the transforming events in my textile journey. I had discovered the power of the plain fabric and the resonance of bold colour. I understood the Amish wish for simplicity. It was not just the quilts which inspired - it was the Amish themselves and much of their way of life … and I started to quilt. I also visited what would have been one of the first specialist shops for patchwork and quilting in Wallingford. There I found the wadding needed – and this my first hand quilted piece was created. It was also the first piece I exhibited – at an exhibition organised at Audley End House near Saffron Walden in Essex.